The MacBook Pro was introduced earlier this year with Intel's Core Duo processor, and now Apple's high-end laptop gets a boost to Intel's latest-and-greatest processor, the Core 2 Duo. Other than the updated CPU, the rest of the MacBook Pro remains largely the same, with appreciated bumps to the memory and the hard drive. There are two 15-inch versions that use either a 2.16GHz or a 2.33GHz CPU, as well as a 17-inch version with the 2.33GHz chip. Apple supplied us with the 2.33GHz 15-inch model, which has a base price of $2,499. Our review unit features memory and hard drive upgrades, which bring the price to $3,174. While the performance gains aren't game-changing, anyone who recently purchased a Core Duo MacBook Pro is doubtlessly gnashing their teeth right now, but this move to Core 2 Duo removes one of the last objections some buyers felt about plunking down for a Mac laptop.
The sleek, aluminum MacBook Pro is the same size and shape as its predecessor, and it clearly stands out from the white plastic look of iPods, iMacs, MacBooks, and other more consumer-oriented Apple products. The MacBook Pro feels lighter than the aluminum casing makes it look, but at 5.6 pounds (6.4 pounds with the AC adapter), it's at the upper end of the weight scale for a laptop you'd want to carry around every day. The dimensions remain as slim as the previous model's, at 14 inches wide by 9.5 inches deep by 1 inch thick.
Apple's minimalist school of design is well represented in the MacBook Pro. Opening the lid, you'll find only a power button, a full-size keyboard, stereo speakers, a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button, and a built-in iSight camera that sits above the display. We're still big fans of the keyboard's backlighting feature and the two-finger touch pad scroll (run two fingers down the touch pad and it scrolls like a mouse wheel).
The MacBook Pro supplies you with two USB 2.0 ports, both FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports (previous models had only FireWire 400), and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner. You won't find a media card reader, however, which has become an almost ubiquitous feature on Windows laptops. The Airport Extreme 802.11a/b/g wireless card and the built-in Bluetooth keep you connected.
The 15.4-inch display has a native resolution of 1,440x900, which isn't the highest resolution we've seen in a laptop of this size, but if offers a nice balance of screen real estate and readability, especially when reading Web-based text. Video output is offered via a DVI port on the side, and a DVI-to-VGA cable is included in the box.
Compared to the 15-inch Core Duo MacBook Pro, which had a 60GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM, the new model brings important upgrades in addition to the Core 2 Duo processor, starting with 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. Our system was upgraded to 3GB of RAM, instead of the default 2GB--a $575 option--and it had a larger 160GB hard drive, which added another $100 to the price.
Apple has touted performance boosts of up to 39 percent over the Core Duo MacBook Pro models. We ran several applications on the new Core 2 Duo version and found a notable boost in performance. In iTunes, the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro was 32 percent faster than a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro. It was also significantly faster than a comparable Core 2 Duo Windows laptop, the HP Pavilion dv6000t, in iTunes--although we should note that iTunes was built by Apple and we'd expect it run better on Apple hardware. We are currently testing Photoshop CS2 and will update this review with those numbers as soon as we have them.
Gaming is not always the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Macs, much less Mac laptops, but we were able to get a very playable frame rate of 42fps in Quake 4, thanks to the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 GPU, which was also found in Core Duo MacBook Pros.
With Boot Camp, the utility that allows users to run a partitioned installation of Windows XP on their Intel Macs, many popular PC games can be played on this hardware. We plan on conducting further tests with both Mac applications and Windows applications under Boot Camp and will report the results in an update to this review. We will also update this review with battery life test results as soon as they are available.
For Apple devotees, it's the little things that make the difference, and the MacBook Pro has a handful of extras that help it stand out amid a fairly generic field of competitors. The MacBook's AC adapter connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending the entire thing crashing to the floor. And you additionally get Apple's Front Row remote. This tiny remote is the same as the one that comes with the iMac, and it controls Apple's Front Row software for playing back movies, music, and photos from a 10-foot interface.
Also included is Apple's much-loved suite of proprietary software, iLife '06, which includes intuitive tools for building Web sites, creating DVDs, composing music, and working with photos.
The default warranty for the MacBook Pro is one year of coverage for parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days--well short of what you'd typically find on the PC side--unless you purchase the $349 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years.